Clarrisse Carroll's Story

By the 1930s, the design for the lookout tower had been perfected and began to spring up all over the nation. At their peak in 1953, there were 5,060 towers in the nation. In the Hoosier National Forest area there were eight lookout towers.

Many of the towerman were local farmers recruited to man the towers during high fire danger. One such towerman was Clinton Carroll, hired in 1950 to man the Georgia Tower near Bryantsville. After a few days of solitude and thinking about how much he had to do on his farm, he turned the job over to his wife, Clarissie. When the DNR man from Fire Headquarters came by and found Clarissie on the job, he told her she was doing a good job and to keep on doing it. " The rules weren't as strict as they are now" she notes. "I never told anyone I was taking over, I just did. And I loved it from the first day."

clarrisse in her tower Clarissie was issued a green skirt and blouse with the DNR insignia on the sleeve and a wide belt. She said they soon realized that slacks were much more practical for women, since "fire fighters assembled below the tower, and wind is no respecter of situations." She is shown here, on watch in her tower.

Her husband became the County Fire Warden, and they worked together detecting, controlling, and keeping records on wildfires in the area. Later, on days Clarissie couldn't keep watch from the tower, her daughters, son-in-law, and even her grandson took turns in the tower. Her sister, the only other woman Clarissie knows of who ever regularly manned a fire tower, worked in the Paoli Lookout Tower.

After the government began to use small planes in fire detection, towers became obsolete. But for a time, they worked cooperatively. Clarissie remembers one of the requirements of the job was to run the flag up the pole while she was on duty, so the aircraft knew which towers were manned.

marchand.jpg (79226 bytes) Some of the towers were given second lives. The Marchand Tower (shown here) on the Hoosier NF was taken down and given to Perry County to provide materials for bridges and railing. Others have been converted to football bleachers for local high schools.

Clarissie Carroll was 103 years old when she passed away. She manned the Georgia Tower for 20 years before it was dismantled. Until her death she lived in her farmhouse near the old tower site. Her husband's hat hung on a hat rack by the door though he had been dead many years. Clarissie still cooked on a wood stove and remembered when...

A dry summer day when she spotted a fire and called the farm she thought it was on. The woman who answered the phone said her husband had gone to town to get water because the well was dry, but she'd see to the fire. Much later the woman called back to report the fire was out. She said the tractor radiator was dry, and the only water she had was in a pot on the stove, boiling potatoes. She'd pulled out the potatoes, poured the water in the tractor, and plowed around the fire.

Or the time she'd dispatched a fire fighter named Murrel to a fire. Murrel said he was working away when a little rabbit bounded by him. He looked up and realized the fire was all around him. He figured if there was a way out of the fire, the rabbit would probably know, so he took off running after the rabbit. He said both he and the rabbit got pretty scorched, but they both made it out.

Or the time during the big Georgia fire when there was fire all around her tower and she "felt like a smoked herring." The fire was to burn one home, 2,464 acres of hardwood forests, 10 acres of pine plantation, and a 20 acre field before it was contained.

Clarisse is shown here, in 1995, with an old hay rake near the site of the Georgia tower she loved. Until her death in 2009 she still enjoyed reflecting on her days in the firetower.

Clarisse Carroll in 1995 on her farm near the old tower site.

Clarisse reflected that there were days when she felt so close to God and nature that she would write stories or poems.  She shared one poem, written after a sweet scented bee carrying a load of pollen sat down to rest a moment on her hand:

Fuzzy bee, you smell like a flower,

But get your wee self out of my tower.

Out in the open to get a fresh breath..

If I close the window, you'll smother to death.

Another poem she shared:

And the sun rose and shone on the hill top.

It shined on the valley too

But the forest Lord, what a gorgeous sight.

From the green, through the black, to the blue.

And then there were mixed through the branches,

All the colors of budding spring:

the pinks, tans, browns of the oaks, beach and ash

To the translucent poplar seed wings!

By Clarrisse Caroll